All throughout Cal Poly’s campus, colorfully illustrated utility boxes are found along pathways – which has left students to wonder who has been decorating them and why.

Campus Facilities sent out newsletters to students Nov. 2021 introducing the opportunity to pitch an idea of what they wanted to paint on a utility box. Once a pitch was approved, the students were sent a map of the utility boxes located around campus to choose one to paint.

Each box is painted by Cal Poly students with majors ranging from architectural engineering to graphic design, and the art itself has caught the attention of those walking around campus.

One artist, graphic design sophomore Emma Lonardo, said she received positive feedback in the early stages of painting the utility box located in front of Sequoia Hall.

“Freshmen were moving into the red bricks and so many people stopped by leaving kind remarks,” Lonardo said. “As these two girls were walking off with their parents they mentioned how it’s going to make them so happy every morning. It totally made my day; that’s exactly what I wanted out of this.”

Lonardo became inspired to paint a utility box herself after seeing painted utility boxes in downtown San Luis Obispo and in her hometown.

Her artwork on the box utilizes a coastal theme with waves and a sunset. She uses vibrant colors in her artwork embodying her personality, and it features the mantra “SLO Happy” to uplift students.

Nearby Lonardo’s utility box is another from architectural engineering junior Katelyn Lowry, which is located in between the University Union and Davidson Music Center.

Lowry said that her piece ties in with Cal Poly as a whole and with the students.

“I chose to do a monarch life cycle,” Lowry said. “They are endangered, and they migrate through SLO to their overwintering sites in Mexico. I like the idea of metamorphosis relating to college students, since they go through a lot of changes.”

The painting process took Lowry around 12 to 15 hours. She balanced her time with her Resident Advisor (RA) training and would only work on the box during the afternoon for short periods of time. Ultimately, it took two weekends of painting.

Although both Lonardo and Lowry painted their utility boxes by themselves, not every box around campus was painted by just one artist. 

Located between the Kennedy Library and the Health Shack, one utility box art was done by 10 students from The Student Chapter of The American Society of Landscape Architects (SCASLA). 

SCASLA is a “student organization that is affiliated with the American Society of Landscape Architects” with the goal to “promote education, community involvement, student activities, a sense of spirit and pride, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments,” according to the Cal Poly landscape architecture page.

This box features imagery of demonstrators, wind turbines, California poppies and the message “Our Planet, Our Future.” The students who painted this piece wanted to inspire environmental activism. 

Landscape architect senior Maya Amyx was one of the students in this group and she said she enjoyed the planning, researching and painting process for this project.

“After hearing about this project sponsored by Campus Facilities, our team planned a few mural proposals and submitted them as an application,” Amyx said. “We had to spend some time researching paints, sealants and methods. In the end, the painting process was very fun and I would recommend it to any aspiring artists wanting to work at a larger scale.”

Besides receiving compliments from students and faculty walking by, the group of students also encountered a library staff member who offered to buy more supplies if they ever ran out.

Amyx also said that SCASLA mainly wanted their artwork to “encourage those who pass by it to take a stand on environmental issues and do what they can to help the current environmental crisis.”